Children Inappropriately Touching Each Other

Parent Q&A

  • This is my first posting on BPN. 

    My daughter just turned 5. She enjoys swimming very much and likes her swimming school. But today, at her swimming class, she got pinched twice at her under private part under the water. She told me she was under pain afterwards. I was extremely upset and burst into tears in public. 

    If she was your daughter, what would you do?

    The boy is about 7 or 8 years old. I am pretty sure he did that on purpose, twice. My daughter can clearly describe where the two times happened. 

    I appreciate all the suggestions. It's my first time to deal with such terrible issue, hopefully, it's the last time. 

    Sorry to hear of this. Call the swim school manager right away, explain the situation, and see what they take as next steps. (I would suggest, kick the boy out of the class.)

    What would I do?  I would let my daughter know it is completely unacceptable and that the adults in her life will make sure she is safe.  Then do what you need to do to keep her safe, whether that is telling the school director and having them take action, or if it is asking for your money back and going elsewhere, or if it merely asking them to transfer your daughter to a different class, or whatever seems best to you. 

    I also think it needs to be made clear to the parents of the boy that he did this, and they need to take steps to address this behavior with him so he doesn't continue to abuse other children. 

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Questions

Student sexual harassment in elementary school

May 2016

Dear Parents,

I'm very concerned about a recent incident at school. My daughter is early in elementary school but has had a deep crush on a boy in the class all year. We found out last week that he lured her with a promise of a present to an off-limits bathroom during after school and then pulled down her pants. She said she tried to pull down his pants too - so attempted to 'play the game' but was clearly upset by the incident. The boy also told her to lie to the teachers and say they had gone to the bathroom to show each other 'private parts'. I was notified immediately, but later found out a similar incident happened in the fall that I was never told about. Obviously, I am very concerned about her safety - curiosity about private parts is normal at this age but the red flags to me are that this boy lured her with a gift to an isolated area to pull her pants down (she said she was 'tricked' and felt sad and mad); and that he is repeatedly picking on a girl he knows is vulnerable to him.

We have talked to her about private parts, safety and recently she took the Kid Power safety class - so we know how to reinforce those rules. My concerns now primarily are (1) How to deal with the school? If this boy has a longer record of trouble, can/should they expel him? It's a private school and they reserve the right to expel for harassment in the bylaws. What policy should they have on this issue? I am most concerned about the long run - if she stays in this school and grows up with this boy I am very concerned about safety as they hit puberty! Should we move her to a different school now? AND (2) how to teach my daughter to not be friends with kids who are mean to her - she really likes this boy and I don't want to command she not be friends with him (which would likely backfire anyway), I want her to figure out and make that decision for herself.

Any advice much appreciated! concerned parent


Hello. I'm sorry you are going through this issue. Your daughter is lucky to have a parent that takes care of her like you do. I don't know how to answer your questions, but my intuition tells me your daughter will be fine. I would say: talk to her and explain that sometimes we need to stay away from certain people, as hard as that might be, because they are not good for us.

However, what worries me the most is the boy. He is as young as your daughter. He should not be expelled as that might leave him in danger for the future (lack of support, stigmatization, who knows what at home, etc.). But what is most alarming to me, and I hope I am wrong, is that he may be at risk with an adult. Where did he come up with the idea of bribing someone else with the promise of a gift so that he could pull their pants down? Is that normal behavior for a kid that age? I know you are concerned about your daughter, and I understand why, but please, talk to someone about that boy. Consider that not only might that child be suffering horrible abuse, but also the fact that an abused child has a high risk of becoming an abuser as an adult himself/herself. I really, really hope no adult or significantly older child is sexually abusing him.

Good luck. Anon.


I'm sorry to hear this happened. I agree with your assessment that, although curiosity may be natural, luring a kid in this manner is concerning. It sound as though you are handling it very well, including focusing on your daughter's skills in responding to situations like this. I think you should take the very questions you wrote in your post to the school administration and don't stop talking to them until they give you an answer that satisfies *you*. I say that because it is hard to know, given the limited information in your post, what should happen with the other kid, but it is the school's responsibility to know that, and their responsibility to demonstrate to you that they understand and are handling it. They should have a fuller picture than you do about the kid's larger issues, longer term history, and so on. They are not obliged to share that with you (and should not) but they are obligated to tell you what they are doing to prevent things like this from happening, either with this kid or others. They are obliged to provide a safe learning environment for your child.

Use your own judgement in determining whether their answers are satisfactory. Your judgement seems good so far, and I can easily imagine a range of responses from the school, from lip-service to try to get you out of their offices to genuine concern and meaningful action. You have to decide whether they are giving you something that satisfies your concerns, but I would push until I'm satisfied (or until I am satisfied that they are not going to handle it). And I would communicate openly with them in the process (as in, ''I still have concerns'' or ''I'm not satisfied that what you are doing is going to prevent something like this from happening again in the future'' and even ''I feel my daughter would be safer in a different school'').

Finally, remember that your strength in this is a model for your daughter in how to handle these situations. Keep asking


You didn't say how old your daughter is but you said she is "early in elementary school." So I am guessing these two kids are in kindergarten or first grade. I don't think it is appropriate to describe this incident as "sexual harassment." There is so much sexual harassment in the world that goes unaddressed, so why must kindergarteners pulling each others' pants down be sexual harassment too? This is very common behavior in the 4-8 year old set. Doing sneaky things, lying to teachers and parents, manipulating other kids, flashing private parts - it's the norm. Don't sexualize it. It seems like you are mistakenly attributing adult feelings and emotions to your young daughter. You wrote that she has a "deep crush" on this boy, and that she is "vulnerable to him" and he "lured" her. Those are words that carry a lot of baggage in the adult world. Your daughter is still a little kid, and little kids have bad judgement and do dumb things. These kids ARE old enough to know they shouldn't be pulling down their pants at school, thus the lying and the remorse. But your daughter is probably also picking up on your reaction, which in my opinion is a little extreme, and she senses your disapproval and shock without really understanding the adult nature of your concerns.

What I would do, as a mom who has raised three kids, is stop talking and fretting about this already. You've done due diligence as a parent plus some. She got the talk about private parts and she's taken a safety class. Now it's time to move on to the next thing (and trust me there will be many more "next things" before you are done parenting!) It sounds like the school is doing an OK job of letting you know what's going on, and most likely they will have the eagle eye on these two kids from here on out. So I wouldn't change schools unless something else happens that makes you lose faith in the school.

It may turn out that your daughter is the kind of kid who is attracted to the troublesome types, boys and girls alike. Watch out for the Queen Bees starting around second grade. Some kids just seem to relish the excitement and adventure of bad behavior, doing things they know they shouldn't do, or hanging out with other kids who do. Having had one of these kids myself, I can tell you that you can't really change their personality so they will stop admiring the outlaws, but you can minimize the time they spend with them, divert them to more positive activities, model the kind of behavior you want them to adopt, and keep a pretty good watch over them. Parents have a lot of control over kids' social interactions right up to about high school, at which point we hope they will exercise good judgement, but truthfully quite a few of them don't. At your daughter's age it is pretty easy to steer her away from kids you don't think are that great. You are right about not bad-mouthing these kids - it can make them seem more attractive. But do always let her know what your own values are, especially at those times when she has chosen a path that isn't the best one. mom of 3


Talking to first grader about sexual harassment

Feb 2009

I received a msg from my first grade son's teacher telling me that a classmate's mother came in to complain about my son kissing and pinching her daughter's bottom. The teacher told us to talk to our son about sexual harassment. (He doesn't even know what sex is.) We're a two mom family. What do we do? How does one talk about sexual harassment to a first grader? We need help with the language. He has been told since infancy (in NAEYC-accredited daycares since then) not to ''open his mouth on someone else's body,'' that ''hitting isn't ok,'' ''not to touch someone else's body (including kissing and hugging) without asking them first. Obviously, this language is now outdated and we need something stronger. So, we're open to any suggestions. anon


I am one mom of a two mom family and I believe you need to tell your son to knock it off. Your words as described in the post are all about him, what he should and should not do, etc. It's time to talk about what his choices cost others.

I would say, ''When you try to kiss Kate, she feels uncomfortable. Because you did not ask Kate if you could kiss her you hurt her feelings and she may not want to play with you or be your friend. You need to check in with Kate and see how you can make amends.''

If you have not already explained what making amends is, you should start today. Your son should have been taught in preschool about checking in with other kids that he accidently or intentionally hurt. Children, like adults, must understand that their choices affect the feelings, including the feeling of safety, of others.

What I have noticed in this society is that we really focus on the adults and children understanding their own needs and feelings at the exclusion of how their words and actions affect others.

One last thing - because you are a two mom family, others at the school are watching how you handle the situation. And, although it is not fair, they are judging all two mom families on how you handle your own family. Mom #2


Sexual harrassment? Oh please. The approach you took in preschool still seems developmentally appropriate. You explain that people's private parts are private and that nobody should be touched any where and in any way that they don't like. You can talk to him about being curious about girls' bodies, you can ask how he feels when he's pinching this girl's bottom, and you can ask him how he thinks she feels. But using terms like ''sexual harrassment'' when dealing with kiddie sex play is just absurd and bordering on deranged.

BTW, the best and most neutral source for teaching kids about appropriate limits is KidPower. Their training, which my son did at age 6 or 7, is unbeatable -- non-threatening, non-scary, kind, assertive, and (since kids get to kick a padded man in the nuts) fun! Kids learn the tools for saying clearly ''I don't like that'' and it might be a good way for your son to both learn how to respect other people's limits and set some of his own. PC up to a point


I haven't had direct experience with this, and don't have a six year old. But my immediate thought is to not use the word ''sexual harrassment'' because it seems like such an adult concept for ultimately child-like and probably fairly innocent behavior. That's not to say it's acceptable and I think I would just tell him he needs to stop kissing and pinching this girl's bottom, that she doesn't like it, and he needs to respect her space and body. But ignore the school's use of ''sexual harrassment'' in talking to him. On the other hand, if this is how they're thinking of it (and not just innocent 6 year old playful behavior) you might want to be careful. I have no idea what the law says on this (the minimum age for behavior to be deemed sexual harrasment). Probably it's not a worry, but you read scary stuff in the newspapers about schools overreacting. Sarah


You don't have to use adult language to talk to your little boy about touching. Be honest and let him that his teacher is concerned. You can talk to him very seriously about respecting other peoples bodies and that others should also respect his. Let him know that you will help him figure this all out and that he can always come to you with questions. I tell 6 year old boys and girls that any body part that can be covered by a swimsuit is private and not for touching by anyone else, with very few exceptions. It might help to buy a book about good/bad touches.

At this point I think gender has more to do with the teacher's perception of things than anything else. I don't really think coming from a two mom household has much to do with it. Child Therapist


Kids may not be taught about sex but they are sexual and curious and to say we never taught him anything so how does she know is just ignorant. Perhaps you should have be speaking to him already. Here is a starting off point. 1) hands to yourself 2) Don't touch others ''personal'' (not a word I really like) parts. Laura


I'm sure you will get lots of responses; this can be a provocative issue. I work with sexually abused kids. I understand how important it is to respond effectively to sexually inappropriate behavior. But I also see every day how adults can overreact to kids' natural curiosity and normal exploration and play.

Your son may be harassing this other child, if he knows his behavior bothers her and won't stop, but I'd resist allowing his behavior to be labeled as ''sexual'' if indeed he has no sexual component in his intent. Adults are really good at projecting their own hang-ups onto kids' behavior. For example, the young boy who was expelled for sexual harassment after telling his teacher she looked ''sexy'' (It turned out he had no idea what the word meant; he thought, from hearing it used in context on tv, that it meant ''pretty''). Kids like to bother one another sometimes. They have a natural fascination with all parts of their bodies (including, esp. at age 6, the ''potty'' parts). And kids pinching each other's butts at age six is, most likely, not a sexual act.

Now, I would worry if a child demonstrated markedly provocative behavior in school (trying to undress, mimicking sexy dancing, etc); if s/he talked a lot about sex and showed unusual knowledge of sexual topics; if s/he repeatedly tried to talk or force other children into sexual play and had difficulty controlling this behavior after being told to stop.

In this situation, it seems like a conversation about general harassment might be more in order. Does he know that his actions bother the other child? Why won't he stop? If you really feel it would be helpful to add a ''body safety'' component to the conversation, you might try talking about private areas, without introducing sex directly. You can tell him that the private areas of the body are the areas that are covered by a swimsuit. Private means that those are parts we keep to ourselves, and that nobody should look at or touch those parts on other people (except sometimes people who are taking care of you, like parents or doctors). He shouldn't do that to anyone, grownup or kid, and if someone tries to do that to him, he should tell a trusted adult.

You probably don't want your first conversation with your son about sex to be in this punitive context. I would advise you not to over-react, and to encourage the other parent and the teachers not to over-react, either. Let kids be kids!


We taught (and reteach) our sons (now ages 6 and 10) that people have private parts. These are the parts of your body covered by your bathing suit. Private means that you don't show people those parts or touch them on other people. There is more to the conversation, but not much more complicated than that. I wouldn't use the term sexual harassment, but I would explan that you touch other people and they don't want to be touched you can get in trouble... they don't like being in trouble. Now that our oldest is 10 we'll probably be more detailed and use more correct language, but honestly he is still pretty innocent and only recently started turning around and leaving after walking in on me getting dressed, so it is a hard call. I think using the language kids use to explain things in a way that makes sense to them is the best way to keep potentially overwhelming information from becoming scary. keep it simple


I think this language of sexual harrassment is so strong, and overkill for a 6yo. I would favor a talk about private parts, and how we only touch our own private parts, and noone else's. Bottoms are a private part. Everyone has the right to have their bodies respected.

I think it may take several times talking about this. But you can also say this is very serious, not just to you, but to the teachers, the other kids, and their parents. It's important that he always respects people's bodies (use wording asking for what you do want rather than the ''no doing xyz''). If you happen to know what the next set of consequences would be, he's old enough to be told what could happen if he keeps doing this, and what we want to happen instead (things going well at school.


Playing ''doctor'' in 2 and 4 y o sibs- normal?

Oct 2007

My 4.5 year old son and 2.5 year old daughter were playing very nicely and quietly one afternoon while I was cleaning the house. When I checked on them after a while, I saw that the door to the room was shut and when I tried to open it, my son said, ''don't come in until I say it's okay.'' Thinking it was a game, I went along with it and opened it after he okayed it (10 seconds later) and saw that my daughter's shorts were pulled up haphazardly. I asked if her pants were off and she said that they were- she and he both denied that there was any touching of private parts- my son said that they were playing ''doctor'' but wouldn't say exactly what he meant. He did say that he learned about it from playing it with other kids at preschool. Other than giving them very clear messages about it NOT being okay to ask the other to remove clothing or to touch one another's private parts, for them to know it is not okay for ANYONE aside from themselves to touch there and for me to inquire the teachers about what is going on at school- would you do anything else regarding this sexual exploration type of play? Has anyone else encountered anything like this in this age range? Concerned Mom


While ''exploration'' and body curiosity is normal for young kids, I am more concerned about the secretive nature of the event and his request that you not come in. It sounds like you handled it well. I would speak to the teachers very directly and soon. If it happens again (hopefully it won't), calmly make it very clear that his sister's body is absolutely NOT for his ''games''. And I would add some books to your children's library...''The Right Touch'' and ''My Body is Private'' and ''It's MY body''. There are others out there, but these are some that my kids responded to well. I would institute a ''no closed doors'' policy when they are playing together, and I would a maintain a close, close watch on them. Sad mom w/ a sad story


5-yr-old son curious about sister's anatomy

January 2007

My 5-yr-old son is commenting on the differences between his genitals and our daughter's, who is 2 1/2. My dilemma is that I noticed him sneak behind the recliner and call her over after she'd just gotten out of the bath (still naked) and was he clearly wanting to investigate. I created a distraction and I'm watching them like a hawk until I figure out how to proceed here. I know it's natural for him to be interested in how the female body is different and what it's all about, and I'm seeing the signs that I need to educate him in some way given his interest.

I know exploration at a certain age is normal, but being a first-time parent I need some guidance on a few things. How can I make absolutely certain to avoid any risk of my daughter becoming his research subject? I don't want to have to continue watching them like a hawk, and I don't want to forbid him from acting on his curiousities because that's likely to make him more interested, more sneaky, or make him feel bad about himself.

Does anyone have any advice about how to think about this and/or how to handle it? What books might I be able to read or show him? One friend told her kids that exploring was perfectly fine and normal as long as a) the person was the same age and equally interested and comfortable participating, b)the person was not a sibling, c)it was done in private, and d)there was no penetration of any kind. So far that's the only suggestion I've gotten and the thought of actually endorsing his pursuits completely freaks me out but I really want to set my insecurities aside and do the right things as a parent. I'm really hoping to get some perspective and some direction! Anything will help! Thank you!

Erika


To be honest, I can't believe your 5 and 2 year old don't bathe together. I think you may be making this more complicated than you need to, and possibly by being overly modest or secretive about your daughter's body, you have piqued his curiosity. I don't think anything is wrong with his interest, but I do think he will persist if he has questions that go on unanswered.

If I were you, I would put them both in the bathtub and be very low-key about it. If you see him looking at a part of her body, you could say, ''Amy's body is different than yours, isn't it? You have a penis and she has a vulva.'' (You could teach him about the vagina part too if you want to go into more detail, but that is not what he is looking at--unfortunately, that's what everyone seems to be teaching their kids, but it is anatomically incorrect and they are being misinformed.)

Your kids are so young, this is the perfect time for them to learn about the human body without having to involve the sexual element yet. Later, your son will need to be more private and the opportunity to learn about the female body in such an easy way won't be there. I think you should definitely be around to answer questions (don't just let him inspect or poke around another child's body unsupervised). Your daughter will learn from this as well! Elizabeth


Get your son a book about anatomy and tell him to leave his sister's private parts alone. Maybe give him a clear explanation of what private means. But you are the mom, you are in charge, and it's OK to lay down the rules without a hand- wringing explanation. Your kids will feel better with absolute rules in place.

Where they get confused is all this negotiation. Young kids don't think the way we do. They don't understand gray areas. They prefer black and white.

If there's one area where strict, unwavering rules are absolutely necessary, it's regarding touching. anon


6-year-old's doctor games - inappropriate touching

Sept 2004

Hi, I have a 6 year old daughter who contunues to initiate playing ''doctor'' type games that involve touching other kid's genitals. We have had problems over this last year where the parents of her friends have made a pretty big deal about it. We have had conversations with her about this letting her know it's ok for her to touch herself in private (and have defined what ''private'' means etc.), but not with her friends and especially not touching. We have all agreed to have them keep there clothes on etc. while playing. Last night while visiting, my friend put all of the kids in the bath together. They were once again caught ''playing'' with each other. Are we making too big a deal about this? Should we make a bigger deal of it? I can tell my friend feels really uncomfortable about this. Initially I felt it was natural and the kid's would lose interest in time but my friends think that crossing the line into touching is an actual sexual act because it causes pleasure and therefore is not ok. I tend to agree but don't know for sure. The questions is what is the definition of ''playing doctor''? All of the books say ''playing doctor'' is ok and natural. I would assume it involves some touching and that kid's don't think of it as a sexual thing but more of a curious thing. I don't know and am clearly confused on what is appropriate or inappropriate. Sorry for being so wordy and thanks for any and all advice. Concerned mom


Getting a kid to understand body boundaries is a process, not an event. It's possible that your daughter is taking longer to learn these boundaries than the average girl, but I don't see it as being very far off the norm.

However, six years old is too old to be sharing baths with friends, especially for a kid who has trouble setting limits on her own. My advice is to keep emphasizing the message, but keep her out of temptation's way. No co-bathing; separate beds at sleepovers; and generally keep an eye on the kids when they play together.

Setting limits for her in a loving and watchful way will help her to learn to set limits for herself. It will also help her to learn to set limits with others when her own body is the object of interest. It sounds to me like you're already on your way. Letitia


Hi- I missed the original post, so hope I'm not off base with this, but I'd like to put in a good word for playing doctor, sharing beds and baths with friends, and such! I did all those things as a kid, and contrary to feeling damaged by them, they were fun, educational, and are among my fondest memories of childhood. The first time I saw a vagina was with a flashlight, under the covers, sleeping over with a friend (shared bed) at about age 10. We were both very curious and eager to take a peek at each other- completely mutual, no coercion, giggly not guilty. Of course, in those days, clinical diagrams were not available for children's instruction and the word vagina was barely whispered- but, I think I'd choose my experience over clinical diagrams. anon


Siblings exploring each others' private parts

October 2003

Our 6.5 year old recently told us that her brother (our 2.5 yr old) said it was okay to touch his penis, so she can let him touch her vagina. While we don't want to shut down curiousity, this doesn't sit well with us. We're tempted to talk with her about ''private parts'' and not letting anyone touch her there. How have others handled this situation? anonymous


I guess I'd be more concerned about where the 2.5 year old got the idea that it was ''okay'' for your daughter to touch his penis than I would be about shutting down curiousity -- especially if he's in day care of any kind. Apart from that, this seems like a very apt time to explain to the kids that certain kinds of touchings are not appropriate. Doubt that you'll make them less curious and you will make them safer.


I am surprised that this is a topic that has not already been discussed with both of your children. I have had this discussion with my daughter since she was two. I taught her the proper terms for her private parts and explained that these parts are special and so no one should touch them but her (and even this needs to be done respectfully), unless she had just gone to the bathroom and needed to be cleaned.

I have always been strict about manners, but have made it very clear that she can be as rude and defiant as she wants to anyone who touches her privates. I frequently repeat the converstaion. Her pediatrician told me it is important to make it a common conversation, otherwise kids can forget.

The best protection you can give your child from sexual abuse is to inform them of their rights to their bodies! Otherwise, they don't know what is O.K. for people to do or not. Most types of sexual abuse are inflicted on children by people they know and are comfortable with and if you don't make it clear to them that NO ONE has the right to play with or explore their bodies they won't have a clue.

Children become very exploratory around age 4-5 and it is important that they understand that it is not O.K. to explore on other people/ children. I know there are people who believe that exploration is natural and innocent, but without boundries anything can get out of hand. I think that with a boy and girl on your hands you should start teaching them about respecting each other's bodies at an early age. You don't have to make it sound evil or bad, I took more of a respect approach: respect for your body and those of others.

We also practiced how to say no in scenerios, this is also agood idea to do when teaching them not to go off with strangers. It is important that they get a chance to practice a behavior.

Good luck! I know it may be a hard thing for some to discuss. I got over my shyness quickly, you will too. It has to be something your child can feel comfortable discussing with you if you expect them to be able to come to you later should something arise. Marcela


I would say to be firm on this one. Just tell her that only mommies and daddies and doctors can touch there and that's only when their babies. Right now it sounds a little ify but if you waited it could become serius. Say no. Anonymas


The book ''Becoming the parent you want to be'' by Keyser and Davis has a chapter on this. You might want to take a look at it. It will help you make up your mind and find a solution that will work for your family. good luck